THIS WEEK’S HALL-OF-FAME GAME
Arizona @ Denver, 4:05 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Broncos by 7
The story: Arizona is one of two undefeated teams, yet the Cards are a touchdown underdog here. Reason: Peyton Manning. He wasn’t taking orders at Papa John’s during his week off; he was studying how to shred the Arizona secondary. And most believe he will, partly because he’s Peyton Manning and partly because Denver never lost to the Cards at home. Ever. But careful, people: Arizona is an NFL-best 10-2 over its last 12 regular-season games, including the only defeat of the Seahawks in Seattle in their last 20 games there. Plus, the Cardinals outscore opponents 30-0 in the fourth quarter, and that’s an issue. Why? Because Denver, which normally buries opponents in the second half at home, has been outscored 21-10 in the fourth period in two home games.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Denver is 19-6 following byes, including 13-3 at home.
THREE OTHERS SUITABLE FOR HALL-OF-FRAMING
Houston @ Dallas, 1 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Cowboys by 6
The story: After this game, there’s only one Lone Star in Texas, and the smart money is on Dallas. Reason No. 1: The Cowboys have a quarterback. Houston does not. Reason No. 2: The Cowboys have the league’s leading rusher. Houston does not. In fact, running back Arian Foster isn’t sure he’ll play. Normally, you’d say the Cowboys gain the homefield advantage, too, except they’re not much above .500 at Jerry World. But where they’re weak — pass defense — Houston isn’t strong, which can happen when you turn your offense over to a journeyman from Harvard whose IQ is higher than his passer rating. Yes, Houston has J.J. Watt, but the Giants’ Rashad Jennings shredded the Texans for 176 yards rushing two weeks ago. So what do you think happens when they try to tackle DeMarco Murray?
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Murray has 10 rushing TDs in his past nine games at home.
Baltimore @ Indianapolis, 1 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Colts by 3-1/2
The story: Once upon a time, this was the NFL’s version of Al Davis vs. Pete Rozelle. To say Baltimore hated Indianapolis is a little like saying George Steinbrenner didn’t like to lose. Baltimore never forgot the Colts’ move west and never forgave Bob Irsay for doing it. But time heals wounds … and 30 years later there’s barely a mention of it. The Colts are on a two-game winning streak; the Ravens won their last three. And while Indianapolis has the better quarterback and may have the better team, if this morphs into “blood and guts” all over again I want to be on the side with Steve Smith.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: A year ago, Baltimore had five runs of 20 or more yards. Through four games this season, the Ravens have six, tying them with Dallas for most in the NFL.
Cincinnati@ New England, 8:30 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Bengals by 1-1/2
The story: When Tom Brady was asked if he had the supporting cast to win, he simply said, “I guess we’ll find out.” Well, there’s no better time or place than now. Cincinnati is unbeaten, which is unusual. But not as rare as this: The Bengals are favored in Gillette Stadium. If there’s a sign the Pats are in trouble, you’re looking at it. First of all, it’s only the second time since 2005 they’ve been home underdogs. Second, under Brady, they’re 36-8 in games following a loss. And, third, they suffered back-to-back regular-season losses just four times since 2003. Nevertheless, there’s a sky-is-falling mentality around New England, and I get it. New England was horrid in its last start. Plus, Cincinnati allows an NFL-low 11 points per game, has the league’s largest point differential (+47) and hasn’t allowed a sack all season. It’s time to find out if the doomsayers are right.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Since 2003, the Patriots are a league-best 37-9 during October, including 22-1 at home.
… AND ONE THAT’S NOT
Cleveland @ Tennessee, 1 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Titans by 1-1/2
The story: Even though they’re 1-2, the Browns have been one of the season surprises. Not only have they been competitive — beating New Orleans and losing only on last-second field goals; they haven’t wheeled out Johnny Football at quarterback yet. And Tennessee? Well, the Titans have been a bit of surprise, too, because … well, because they stink, and, if you don’t believe me, listen to safety Bernard Pollard. “Right now,” he said, “we’re doormats to a lot of people around the league.” Jake Locker returns and not a moment too soon for the Titans. Something has to change in Tennessee because, as Pollard put it, “our fans deserve better.” Amen.
Hall-of-Fame Worthy: Cleveland’s Brian Hoyer not only is 4-2 as a starter; he hasn’t thrown an interception this season.
UPSET OF THE WEEK
Rick Gosselin: Chicago (+2-1/2) over Carolina. The Panthers have allowed 75 points the last two weeks in losses to Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Chicago will create more problems with Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Matt Forte.
Ron Borges: Houston (+6) over Dallas. The Amish Rifle puts just enough pressure on the Cowboys’ defense to expose it for the Swiss cheese that it is.
Clark Judge: Buffalo (+7) over Detroit. Kyle Orton hasn’t lost to the Lions, and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has something to prove.
LOCK OF THE WEEK
Philadelphia (-7) over St. Louis. The Eagles are home where they won their last six regular-season starts, their longest streak there since 2004. But that’s not all. They can throw Nick Foles and LeSean McCoy and Jeremy Maclin and Darren Sproles and Riley Cooper at you, while the Rams have … well, meet Austin Davis. OK, so McCoy isn’t himself. He will be after facing the league’s 30th-ranked run defense.
FIVE GUYS WHO COULD MAKE SUNDAY’S WALL OF FAME
1. Chicago RB Matt Forte. His best two games rushing (205 and 166 yards) were against Carolina.
2. Buffalo QB Kyle Orton. He’s 4-0 vs. Detroit.
3. New Orleans QB Drew Brees. He won his last five starts vs. Tampa Bay, with a passer rating of 113.3.
4. Seattle QB Russell Wilson. He’s 3-0 on Monday Night Football, with seven TDs, no interceptions and a passer rating of 121.6.
5. New England WR Julian Edelman. In his last four games at home, the Patriots’ Julian Edelman has 34 catches and three TDs.
HALL OF NOTES-WORTHY
1. With one TD pass, Peyton Manning reaches 500 for his career. Only Brett Favre (508) has more in NFL history.
2. Since 2003, New England is 35-4 in regular-season games following a loss.
3. Since the current playoff system was adopted in 1990, 25 teams with losing records after four weeks made it to the playoffs — including Carolina and Philadelphia last year.
4. Carolina is the only team not to throw an interception this season.
5. Baltimore hasn’t allowed a sack in three straight starts, the first time that’s happened since 2006.
6. With 100 yards and a touchdown Sunday, DeMarco Murray becomes only the second back in NFL history to start his first five games with at least a touchdown and 100 yards in each start. Jim Brown and O.J. Simpson are the others.
7. Nick Foles is unbeaten in his last six regular-season home games, with 11 TDs, two interceptions and a 104.7 passer rating.
8. Seattle won its last eight on Monday Night Football.
9. New Orleans is 8-0-1 against the spread in its last nine games at home.
10. Jacksonville not only is winless; the Jags haven’t come closer than 17 points to any of this season’s opponents.